(7 a.m. EDT) -- The Australian government's decision to allow cruise ships to share a naval base in Sydney has come under fire from a defence watchdog.
The Australia Defence Association said the decision by Prime Minister Julia Gillard to allow three cruise ships to share Garden Island with the Royal Australian Navy was like stealing from taxpayers, according to Australia's ABC News website.
Ms. Gillard cleared the way to allow Celebrity Cruises' Celebrity Millennium and Royal Caribbean's Radiance of the Seas to join Cunard's QM2 –- which has used the island on an ad hoc basis since 2007 -- to use the base this year and next.
The move comes after intense lobbying from cruise lines, which have been pushing for a purpose-built cruise terminal in Sydney Harbour. At present, large ships have to moor in the middle of one of the city's bays during their time in Sydney.
Neil James from the Australia Defence Association said the cruise ship industry should build its own facility in Port Jackson, which is also in Sydney Harbour: "Instead of the New South Wales Government and the industry providing the infrastructure, they're attempting to steal it from Australian taxpayers."
A report found the Navy's requirements were not compatible with cruise ship access over the long term and that guaranteeing shared access for the cruise industry would adversely impact naval operations.
It said the peak periods for the Navy and the cruise industry coincide and that cannot be changed.
The report argues that the berths sought by the cruise industry are the ones suitable for the Navy's new ships, known as landing helicopter docks.
But New South Wales Premier Barry O'Farrell said the decision was better than the Federal Government's previous blanket refusal to share the naval space: "With the sort of growth we're seeing, three won't be enough, but it's a good start," he said.
Garden Island will also include Customs facilities, according to a report in Australia's Cruise Weekly.
The move has been welcomed by Royal Caribbean International, which also emphasized the need to keep working with the government to find a permanent solution.
A spokesperson said: “While the opportunity to use Garden Island on a guaranteed basis will provide more certainty for our itinerary planning in the short term, the Prime Minister's announcement only underscores the need for a permanent solution in the form of a new berth for large ships in Sydney.”
She added that a new cruise facility would allow the company to continue operating larger ships such as Voyager of the Seas and Celebrity Solstice -- both of which can carry more than 3,000 passengers -- from Sydney.
Carnival Australia, also welcomed the move, after years of lobbying.
Ann Sherry, CEO of Carnival Australia, described the decision as “sufficient” for the industry's current needs. She added that is the situation had been allowed to continue -- with ships moored in the bay -- it would “act as a brake on cruise industry growth”.
--by Adam Coulter, U.K. Editor